Thinking for speaking about events: a cross-linguistic approach to processing in L1 and L2
10 / 2011 - 09 / 2014
The relationship between language and thought has typically been investigated in terms of the link between single linguistic forms (mainly vocabulary) and basic conceptualizations, e.g., colour and object categories. Recent linguistic analyses indicate that also more complex linguistic phenomena, namely, how speakers talk about entire situations, are, at least partly, language-specific (von Stutterheim & Nüse, 2003). Cross-linguistic differences can be related to the way in which spatio-temporal concepts are expressed by lexical and grammatical means ("Thinking for Speaking", Slobin, 1996). Language-specific event conceptualizations can be identified even for the typologically close languages Dutch, English, and German (Flecken, in press). Here, event descriptions reveal different preferences in information selection, segmentation, and structure, relating to grammatical differences (word order, grammatical aspect). This project will address two important aspects of event conceptualization, that until now have not been investigated: (1) What is the scope of language-specific event conceptualizations? Do they influence cognitive processing of events/event features in tasks that do not involve explicit language use? (2) How do speakers, who master a second language (L2) at different proficiency levels, deal with language-specific event conceptualizations in the L2? Do they show native speaker-like processing patterns associated with these linguistic preferences? The project takes an innovative approach by combining measurements of reaction time, eye tracking, electrophysiological brain responses, and hemodynamic brain imaging in five experiments, to compare language and conceptual processing patterns between L1- and L2-speakers. The project will contribute to the language and thought debate by its focus on a more complex and more daily-life context of language use. Also, looking at L2-processing of fine-grained language-specific features represents a novel aspect in the field of L2-research. The project will provide a basis for understanding different patterns in perspective taking and information processing within the context of cross-national communication, even between closely related cultures.